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Create a start-up mentality in your big organization


Start-ups are the current hype, but according to Vlerick professor Miguel Meuleman there’s still a lot of potential in larger enterprises themselves. You have to overcome some obstacles to create a start-up mentality in a large organization though. An important one is finding the balance between management and entrepreneurship.  This blog shares some insights of the “Vlerick Feed your mind – Getting back to innovation” session.

Finding the balance between management and entrepreneurship

Many big organizations only have managers. Managers who are often too controlling and not allowing any room for innovation. Opposite are the entrepreneurs, who explore possibilities and discover new grounds. Entrepreneurs have an exploration mind-set that allows them to see opportunities and take risks.

Too much management will make your organization less flexible and projects are only realized after a long time, for example via the waterfall model. But with too much entrepreneurship and exploration you can loose the focus of your organization. The truth is: you need both management and entrepreneurs. To survive in an ever changing world, you need a search mind-set, but also an execution mind-set.  It’s the challenge for management to create an innovative climate where these entrepreneurs can thrive.

Critical ingredients to stimulate start-up culture in a big organization

So how do your create the necessary climate and start-up mentality in a big organization?

Management support

That you need management support is a no-brainer, but it’s key to have the right structures in place. It should be possible to take person out of their day-job to work on new idea. 

Who’s making currently making the decision about spending your budget? Is it based on realizing the best ideas? You can have the crowd decide where to invest in, for example with an investment market. Of course, budget needs to be made available for these investments.

Encourage small experiments and have a fast decision making process in place. If you fail, fail fast.

Work autonomy & time availability

Give people freedom to try their own methods of doing the job, which leads to new innovations.

Make time available to work on ideas. Do not give full freedom, but give direction. Clearly define the challenges that your organization is having and invite your colleagues to think along.

You can make it explicit by defining a clear challenge: “We want to find a solution for … and you have these days to work on it”.

Miguel Meuleman: "Intrapreneurship is fostered when individuals have the freedom and autonomy on their work, but this freedom must be balanced to make sure individuals' creative efforts stay aligned with company objectives."


Just like external entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs need sponsorship and sponsor support. A sponsor from management can remove obstacles when needed.

A culture of trying, failing and learning needs to be installed. You can do this by actual trying, sharing failures and also asking to sharem them and the lessons learned during an evaluation talk.

Encourage the expected behaviour by assigning awards for entrepreneurs.

Organizational boundaries

Open up the hierarchy in your business. There are some walls needed between the entities, but make them low so the colleagues can jump over them.

Do something different. Swap jobs within organizations. Don’t go the same conference every year, but join one in another area, eg. start-up conference. What are they doing there?

Get the outside in. Invite external entrepreneurs to give feedback on in-company ideas. Involve your customers in the journey for finding new ideas.

Additional reading

Session Miguel Meuleman

Eric Ries on The Lean Start-up (video)

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